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Manchester United finally get their man but where will Pogba fit into Mourinho's United?

Wednesday 10th August 2016
After one of the more drawn-out, protracted, transfer sagas in recent memory, Manchester United finally have their man, and Paul Pogba has made his inevitable return to Old Trafford for an eye-watering world record transfer fee of £89m.

Following months of negotiations between United and Pogba's former employers Juventus, and abundant media speculation regarding where the French midfield maestro would end up (there was always a lingering worry in the minds of United fans that Pogba may have been lured by European Champions Real Madrid) Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho can now finally start to plan for life with their new acquisition.

While signing a player of Pogba's undoubted quality and lofty potential would seem to be a no-brainer, some have questioned whether he is actually worth his rather exorbitant price tag, particularly after Pogba somewhat underwhelmed at this summer's Euro 2016, where he only really showed his class intermittently. That appears to have left many in Britain somewhat unconvinced by Pogba, given that for many on these shores it will have been the first chance to see Pogba perform somewhat regularly, rather than just from Vine clips and YouTube compilation videos.

Having qualms over a transfer fee that size is to be expected, but given the nature of the transfer market where inflated prices of players have become the norm, (read: John Stones' move for £47.5m to Manchester City and Championship mainstay Ross McCormack's £12m switch to Aston Villa) and Manchester United's favourable financial footing, the price of the transfer for Pogba is pretty much moot, and United will likely recoup the money they forked out on the Frenchmen by the end of the season via lucrative TV and sponsorship deals, as well as from shirt sales from the very marketable new arrivals of Pogba and Ibrahimovic.

While the financial aspect of Pogba's transfer may not be much of a cause for concern for United, finding a way to effectively fit him into manager Mourinho's preferred starting 11 whilst also managing to get the best out of the France International is somewhat harder to envision.
On the face of it, the prospect of Pogba lining up alongside the likes of Ibrahimovic, captain Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and ther new arrival Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Old Trafford this season would be tantalising for United fans, it is really difficult to imagine the notoriously pragmatic new manager at Old Trafford fielding such an attack-heavy side next season.

Mourinho is a proponent of a 4-2-3-1 formation which he has rarely abandoned over recent years, and is likely to continue that trend this season. If United were to line-up in that formation, you would expect Pogba to have to feature as one of the two deeper midfield players alongside either Michael Carrick or Morgan Schneiderlin, with Rooney in the no.10 position behind Ibrahimovic, and two of Mkhitaryan, Martial, Rashford or Jesse Lingard selected as the wide players.

Setting the United team up in that manner would be commendable and would likely produce a glut of goals, but would not be one reminiscent of a typical Mourinho team, with the Portuguese typically favouring two more defensive minded players in the defensive midfield positions, making Pogba an unlikely choice to feature in a deep position, particularly in the big games.

While Pogba has featured in a deeper role in his career- even as recently as Euro 2016- it is not where the former Juve man is at his best, (that would be on the left of a three-man midfield) as despite his strength and tackling ability, he lacks the tactical and defensive discipline to play there, and his maverick attacking abilities are wasted being deployed so far away from the opposition goal.
The solution would appear to be to play Pogba further forward in a freer role as the no.10 in Mourinho's favoured 4-2-3-1, but yet that would seem at odds with Mourinho's assertion that he will be playing Wayne Rooney in an attacking role this season. That would suggest that the chances of Rooney dropping back into a deeper role in place of Pogba is unlikely, even if it would perhaps be a more logical way to get the best out of both players at the current stages of their respective careers. Rooney is ageing and the dynamism he has seen diminish over time, can be provided by the younger, hungrier and more athletic Pogba. It may be beneficial for both, for Pogba to be afforded a marauding, more advanced role where he can show off his extravagant touches and powerful shooting ability, whilst Rooney can continue his increasingly impressive Paul Scholes tribute act in the deeper position where he now seems more at home.

Given Mourinho's insistence that he sees his captain as a forward player, it seems unlikely, and perhaps in games against tougher opposition accommodating both Rooney and Pogba- as well as three other forward players- and maintaining adequate defensive balance could be the biggest challenge facing Jose Mourinho in his debut season in the Old Trafford dugout.

Switching to a 4-3-3 formation, a system favoured by many of Europe's elite clubs, with Pogba and Rooney lining up alongside Carrick, Schneiderlin or Daley Blind in a deeper role may allow United to get the best out of them, if Mourinho is willing to alter his traditional set-up, but even still there are doubts as to whether Carrick, Schneiderlin and Blind will be sufficient enough to anchor the United midfield sufficiently on their own.

It will be interesting to see how Mourinho will accommodate all of his attacking riches in the new season, and particularly how he utilises Paul Pogba, who given the transfer fee, you would expect him to build the team around to get the best out of him in a Manchester United shirt. Pogba was the marquee, world-class signing United had to make as a statement of their intent for the season ahead, but time will tell if the world's most expensive player will prove to be a good fit in a side already boasting an embarrassment of attacking riches.

Regardless of how that pans out, at least Manchester United supporters can rest safe in the knowledge that a repeat of last year's paltry Premier League goal tally of 49 is unlikely to be repeated with the likes of Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic now on board.
Michael Soloman
Journalist. Long-suffering Derby County fan, Lionel Messi and Barca bandwagon-er.

Total articles: 38

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